Golden Grizzlies Rounding Second
The Oakland University baseball team entered its first year of eligible competition inside the Mid-Continent Conference standing at the plate wondering what kind of pitch it would get. Fastball, curveball, or maybe a changeup. When the pitch came, Oakland connected with a shot into the outfield and finished the season in second place.
The finish gave OU a number two seed in the Mid-Con tourney. After winning the first two games, Oakland fell to defending champion Oral Roberts and then Southern Utah to finish the season 28-32, 17-9 Mid-Con.
"I think we snuck up on a lot of teams last year," said head coach Mark Avery. "Nobody expected us to finish second in the Mid-Con and therefore I think teams will be ready for us this year."
In only its second season of competing at the Division I level, OU covered a lot of ground in a short span of time. The Golden Grizzlies were two wins away from winning the conference tournament and making a regional bid in their first year of eligible competition.
"It is a lot to take in," said Avery. "We knew we had good athletes, but didnt know if the junior college players would have seasons reciprocal to the numbers they put up at the junior college level. Luckily for us, many things did go our way last year."
The numbers the junior college transfers put up were astounding. Seniors Rob Brockman (Park Hills, KY/Dixie Heights HS), Casey Caid (Three Oaks/Three Oaks HS) and Trevor Seyka (Dewitt/Dewitt HS) all had good years for Oakland in 2000.
Brockmans season ended after 47 games due to an injury suffered against Notre Dame on May 3, 2000. The third baseman set a school record with 14 home runs and finished second in the conference. He ranked fourth in the conference with a .673 slugging percentage.
Caid batted over .400 for the final 20 games and finished the season with a .335 batting average. The centerfielder ranked third on the Golden Grizzly squad in batting average and slugging percentage .603. Caid finished fifth in the Mid-Con in home runs (12) and ninth in total bases (117).
Seyka had 11 saves for Oakland, which ranked 15th in the nation and second in the conference. The righthander had a save in every 2.5 wins for the Golden Grizzlies.
"These guys were outstanding for us," said Avery. "I know what they accomplished in junior college and recruit them for those same reasons, but you never know if they will produce the same numbers at the Division I level."
With a host of these players returning, Oakland knows they have a lot of expectations for 2001. Expectations of improving on a record setting season that saw OU break seven school records. These records include most games (60), most hits (559), most doubles (120), most home runs (62), most innings pitched (448.2) and most strikeouts by a pitching staff (342).
"The players know that we had a good year in 2000," said Avery. "That hasn't stopped them from wanting to have a better year in 2001, and that includes getting to regionals."
The tournament was Oaklands goal when 2000 started. To get there and have a chance at getting the automatic bid for winning the tournament. This year is no different.
"We always make a goal of winning the conference and the tournament," said Avery. "We have set up a schedule that will get us ready for a conference run."
The schedule coach Avery refers to is packed with outstanding competition, including the number one team in the nation, Georgia Tech.
"We opened with Georgia Tech last season," said Avery. "We didnt make that mistake this year, we scheduled three games before we take on the best team in the country. It is an exciting game for our players and coaches, and is a measuring tool that gives you an idea to what you need to improve to get to that level."
The Golden Grizzlies 10-game southern trip includes Georgia Tech, Georgia State, Mercer and Western Kentucky. After the road trip, Oakland will come home and face Michigan, Michigan State, Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan, Detroit-Mercy, Bowling Green and Toledo in out-of-conference matchups.
"These non-conference games will get us ready for conference play that starts in March," said Avery. "We open up with defending champion Oral Roberts and that is why we play tough competition so we will be ready for the Golden Eagles."
It always helps to have the personnel as well. Oakland returns seven position starters, including one of the best offensive outfields in the conference.
"I think we had the best hitting outfield in the conference last year," said Avery. "Kip (Harris), Casey and Nick (DiPonio) led the team in batting average and had 26 homers between them."
Seniors Kip Harris (Midland/Dow HS) and Caid will lead the OU outfield in 2001. Harris set school records in total bases (135) and hits (77) in 2000. The rightfielder led Oakland with a .368 batting average (10th in the Mid-Con) and slugging percentage .646 (6th in the Mid-Con). Harris ranked fourth in the conference in hits, doubles (20) and fifth in home runs (12).
Nick DiPonio set a school record with 22 doubles last year and ranked second in the Mid-Con. The junior batted .354 for the Grizzlies and scored the most runs with 52. The leftfielder stole eight bases in twelve attempts.
Oakland realizes that it is not bulletproof and lost valuable personnel from 2000. This includes pitchers Sean Boesch and Erik Swanson. Boesh signed an independant contract with the Chillicothe Paints where he earned all-star honors in his first season. Swanson was a 12th round draft pick for the Seattle Mariners and took his team leading 60 strikeouts with him.
The final Golden Grizzly OU lost was catcher and team leader Chuck Van Robays. The former catcher set a school record by catching all 60 games played in 2000. Van Robays signed an independant contract in Johnstown, Pennsylvania and Oakland will acquire his services as a coach.
"We lost some valuable personnel," said Avery. "It is always tough to replace three professional baseball players, but I think we did a good job recruiting."
The recruits that will have this tough task include redshirt catcher Tony Marulli (Sterling Heights/Utica HS), lefthanded pitcher Dominic Carmosino (Cincinnati, OH/Xavier HS), righthanders Jason Popham (Warren/Grand Rapids JC) and Tim Edick (Northville/Northville HS).
Marulli is coming off a redshirt year for Oakland. The 6-5, 225 pound catcher was named to the all-League, all-District, all-Conference teams his senior year and was a member of the Michigan High School All-Star team in 1999.
Carmosino brings national experience to the pitching staff. The 6-4 lefthander led the Midland Redskins to a 58-7 record in summer of 2000 which finished third in the nation.
Popham is a junior transfer from Grand Rapids Community College. The 6-4 righty is the hardest hurler on the pitching staff and will provide experience to the young staff.
Edick is a converted catcher that will join OUs pitching staff. The Northville native earned all-conference and all-district honors his final two seasons for the Mustangs.
"These guys will make an immediate impact for us," said Avery. "With their addition, and the core we have back, I think we will have a good chance at surpassing last year's success."
Teams go as far as pitching and defense will take them. This is something that every team knows going into each season.
Head Coach Mark Avery
"We have a lot of unproven pitchers," said Avery. "With that said, we do have Gordon (Hosbien), Justin (Robertson), Kurt (Spyke), and Adam (Sokoll) to lead this staff. We have to find the perfect balance."
Junior Gordon Hosbein (St. Joseph/St. Joseph HS) is a three-year starter for the Golden Grizzlies. The junior righthanded pitcher was third on the team last year with 55.1 innings pitched. Hosbien finished the season 2-5 with an 8.95 ERA.
Senior Justin Robertson (Lapeer/West HS) appeared in 23 games for OU and recorded a 5-3 record and a 5.96 ERA. In 48.1 innings, he struck out 34 and walked 21.
Senior Kurt Spyke (Fruitport/Fruitport HS) enters his second year for the Grizzlies. The 6-3 lefthander finished second on the team with five wins. Spyke pitched in 58.1 innings, struck out 46 and recorded a 7.56 ERA.
Senior Adam Sokoll (Lake Orion/Lake Orion HS) has worked his way to the number one spot on the pitching staff in 2000. Sokoll made 15 appearances in 2000 and had three starts. The 6-4 righthander struck out 16 in 24.2 innings, and finished with a record of 1-1.
"This year will be a true test of how we have done since taking over in 1999," said Avery. "We have all Division I athletes and I am excited to see what they can do."
The Golden Grizzlies have made tremendous strides in just two years of Division I competition. Finishing second in the Mid-Con and third in the tournament would satisfy most teams. Not this team, they look to pass second and go to third in 2001.
The starting rotation will be Sokoll, Robertson, Hosbien and Carmosino. These four will be responsible for conference starts on the weekend.
Spyke and freshman Brad Morenko (Marysville/Marysville HS) will get middle week starts and help out on the weekends. Morenko recorded a 12-0 record with a 1.51 ERA and 103 strikeouts as a senior, while making an appearance in the All-Star game at Comerica Park in 2000.
Senior Jason Roberts (Fenton/Fenton HS), Popham and sophomores Brent Brown (Niles/Brandywine HS), Kirk Anderson (Washington/Rochester Adams HS) and freshman Steve Kniebbe (Bridgeport/Bridgeport HS) will share middle relief duties for the Golden Grizzlies. Roberts is familiar with this role out of the bullpen, as he made 19 appearances last year, pitching 20.2 innings, recording a 1-2 record, and a 4.79 ERA.
Brown threw 33.2 innings for OU in 2000. He made four starts and ended the season with a 2-3 record. Anderson made nine appearances, including three starts for Oakland last year. In 18.1 innings, he struck out six and finished with a record of 1-2.
Kniebbe recorded 6-2 record as a senior with a 2.36 ERA, two no-hitters and was named to the Michigan Dream Team.
The closer Oakland gets to the end of the game, the closer they will be to calling upon senior closer Seyka and freshman Edick. Seyka ended last year with 11 saves and ranked second in the conference. Edick will set him up, on his way to being the next closer for the Golden Grizzlies.
Redshirts Marulli and junior Matt Gabrielli (Novi/Novi HS) return to the Oakland lineup to share the catching duties. Gabrielli started in one game for OU last year against Georgia Tech (2/20/00) where he was hit in the hand by a pitch and suffered a broken bone.
Freshman Dale Young (West Bloomfield/Brother Rice HS) will help out with catching duties in 2001. Young earned three varsity letters at Brother Rice for baseball.
Junior Peter Varon (Bloomfield Hills/Andover HS) will be redshirting in 2001 due to an injury in his back. Varon started 33 games for Oakland last year. In Varon's absence, the first base duties will be senior John Griffin (Bloomfield Hills/Western Michigan) and freshman John Sullivan (Saginaw/Saginaw Nouvel HS). Griffin sat out last season due to the NCAA transfer rule, transferred from Northern Illinois and Western Michigan where he played football. Sullivan was named all-area, all-district, all-region, all-state and was tabbed all-state as a senior.
Junior Erik Crossley (Woodhaven/Woodhaven HS) and freshman Josh Masden (Noblesville, IN/Noblesville HS) will battle for the starting role at second base. Crossley started in 55 games for Oakland last year and led the infield with a .967 fielding percentage. Masden hit .386 for the Millers in senior year and was all-region and county.
Junior Chris Kimball (Anchor Bay/Anchor Bay HS) and freshman Ryan Freiburger (St. Clair Shores/Lake Shore HS) headup the short stop position. Kimball is a two-year starter for OU and had a .319 on-base percentage and a .917 fielding percentage. Freiburger batted .398 with four home runs in senior season.
Brockman will be the starting third baseman for the Golden Grizzlies. The senior hit .333 with 14 home runs in just 46 games for Oakland. He ended the season with a .848 fielding percentage.
Harris, Caid and DiPonio will head the outfield. Harris will start in rightfield, Caid in center and DiPonio in left. The three combined for a .358 batting average, with 217 hits, 52 doubles and 26 home runs.
Sophomores Jeff Hall (Perrysburg, OH/Perrysburg HS) and Spencer Hynes (Clarkston/Clarkston HS) will also help in the outfield. Hall was Oakland's pinch hitter in 2000 and recorded 18 hits in 71 at-bats. He started in 21 of the 31 games played in and had a .254 batting average. Hynes played in 30 games last year and started in nine of them. He had six hits in 36 at-bats, including one home run.
Redshirt freshman Josh Patton (Troy/Troy HS) will also help the Golden Grizzly outfield. Patton has great speed and is an exceptional defensive outfielder. He will come in the late innings to help OU's defense at the end of the game. Patton was named all-League, all-District and all-Region in his junior and senior seasons at Troy High School.